Airports: Fuel sales down, but private air activity remains strong at Yeager

Airports: Fuel sales down, but private air activity remains strong at Yeager

While fuel sales at Yeager Airport’s general aviation area are down substantially from last year’s levels, private aircraft activity remains strong – especially compared with other areas of the nation harder hit by plant closings and slumping sales.

“We’re doing well,” Scott Miller, owner of Executive Air, the private aircraft concession at the Charleston airport, said Wednesday, during a meeting of Yeager Airport’s governing board. “I’m not sure why, exactly, but we are. We put two more single engine aircraft on the field in the last 30 days, and we could fill up another 10 T-hangars just like that.”

“We’re at capacity now with hangars, and we’ve basically used every inch of land we can build on at the general aviation side of the airport,” said Yeager Airport Director Rick Atkinson. “For any growth to happen there, we need more space.”

Atkinson said the lack of developable space is one reason the airport’s new master plan calls for at least temporarily closing Yeager’s 4,750-foot crosswind runway, used mainly by smaller private aircraft. Later, when funds are available, a 3,500-foot segment of the runway would reopen to general aviation traffic for takeoffs only. Hangars could then be built on some of the closed portions of the runway.

Miller said that while general aviation fuel sales were down 19 percent from last year, there have been encouraging developments, including a near doubling in the number of transient military aircraft using the general aviation facility.

In other airport developments, a new federal Department of Energy hydrogen fuel demonstration plant to be installed along Eagle Mountain Road – the road leading to the general aviation area – is scheduled to open Aug. 17. The opening will coincide with the Mountain States Hydrogen Business Council’s annual Hydrogen Implementation Conference, to be held Aug. 17-20 at the Charleston Embassy Suites

By using electricity purchased at off-peak hours, the $2 million plant will be able to produce hydrogen fuel equivalent to one gallon of gasoline at a cost of $2.10 per gallon, Atkinson said.

Initially, only a small amount of hydrogen fuel will be produced daily – enough to supply the three hydrogen-burning vehicles Yeager Airport will receive for donating land for the project. The West Virginia Air National Guard also will receive a vehicle, and the airport board voted to buy a fourth hydrogen-burning vehicle that had previously been used in an Arizona hydrogen fuel experiment for about $10,000.

Atkinson said airport personnel would work with area industries to find new hydrogen fuel applications not only for vehicles, but for hydrogen batteries and hydrogen-powered generators as well.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, appeared at the board meeting to praise emergency personnel and Yeager employees for their handling of the July 13 emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737. The aircraft lost pressure at an altitude of about 30,000 feet when a hole formed in the fuselage roof on a flight from Nashville to Baltimore.

“Your response to the emergency was just great,” Thompson said.

Airport officials and emergency officials critiqued the incident Tuesday. Atkinson said those attending the session were pleased that all needed emergency equipment was staged at the airfield within eight minutes after the Southwest pilot alerted FAA officials that an emergency landing was planned.

A few adjustments to the airport’s emergency response plan were made during the critique, including increasing the number of personnel to be put on standby status in an emergency involving a similar-sized aircraft.

“The Metro 911 center didn’t tell the people on the scene how many people were aboard the aircraft and how much fuel it was carrying,” Atkinson said. “We need to make sure they have that information next time something like this happens.”

Work is underway on a $4.97 million upgrade to Yeager’s passenger terminal building that will include an exterior canopy and an improved baggage handling system. The project should be complete by early January, except for portions of an improved fire sprinkler system.

By Rick Steelhammer, Charleston Gazette


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